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What is encryption

What -- in basic terms -- is encryption?


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Encryption is a way that employs a cryptographic algorithm (procedure) to disguise or hide a message (where a message could be a letter, a document, a whole disk image on a computer -- any string of data).

A cryptographic algorithm is a procedure that takes plaintext data (unencrypted, readable) and transforms it into ciphertext (hidden, disguised) in a reversible way.

A simple example of an encrypted message:
Gurl unir rlrf gb frr ohg qb abg frr naq rnef gb urne ohg qb abg urne.

You can decrypt it (decryption is the opposite of encryption) if I tell you the key: It is a simple letter substitution, where the alphabet is offset by 13 places. A gets replaced by N; B by O; and so on.


This was first published in March 2001

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